Who's Minding the Storage?

By Baselinemag  |  Posted 2003-07-01 Email Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Remember when you didn't worry about managing data storage?


Remember when you didn't worry about managing data storage? That was before e-commerce, e-mail and applications such as customer relationship management software created an explosion in servers, disks and data. For many today, investing in software to manage storage hardware is a must.

Consider Kevan Bohlooli, director of information management at FPL Energy. He bought more storage capacity than necessary and spent even more to manually monitor, provision, back up and maintain storage for the energy-trading division of utility company Florida Power & Light.

Bohlooli's answer to ballooning storage management costs? Replace a mishmash of directly connected disks with a storage area network (SAN) and Fibre Channel switches from EMC, and buy EMC software to manage the 20-terabyte storage area network.

For companies, the question isn't whether to invest in storage management software, but whose to use. Information technology managers spent $4.7 billion on software for managing storage in 2002. After a pause in 2003, they are expected to increase storage software purchases, spending more on storage software than hardware by 2006, according to analyst firm Meta Group. Why? Companies say storage management software helps them make more-efficient use of their huge investments in disk storage.

At FPL Energy, for example, storage software lets administrators track, from one screen, how well individual disks and switches are performing, how efficiently storage is being used and how fast stored data is growing. So, rather than guess how much storage to acquire on a server-by-server basis, FPL Energy can buy and provision disk space from a central pool only as it's needed.

As a result, FPL Energy now uses 85% of the disk space it purchases instead of 25% to 40%, according to Bohlooli. And FPL can now keep on top of storage with only a half-time storage administrator instead of as many as five people.

Better disk utilization and lower administrative costs aren't the only benefits from the storage software. Companies say these tools help them get smarter about placing the right data on the right type of storage technology and faster when it comes to provisioning new storage.

Before investing in storage software 18 months ago, administrators at biotech company Incyte Corp. couldn't easily ensure that different types of data were being stored where it made the most sense: critical, often-accessed data on its fastest and most expensive disks, and less-critical, archival data on slower network-attached storage devices. That has changed with the purchase of storage management software.

"We've drastically reduced spending on storage because we're spending less on very high-end, high-availability devices," says Rebecca Naughton, scientific systems architect at Incyte. (An estimate of the company's savings was not available.) "We're not using fast, expensive devices to store MP3 files or 19 copies of some public domain database that won't be touched for two years."

For companies, the most pressing challenge posed by storage software is the inability of hardware and software from different vendors to operate with each other easily.

Although vendors have begun to hammer out standards under the banner of the Storage Networking Industry Association, analysts such as Steve Kenniston of the Enterprise Storage Group say it will take another 18 months for standards to be established and implemented in storage management products. (Vendors have pledged support for this effort.)

In the meantime, users must make a choice: Embrace a single vendor's storage hardware and storage management software suite—such as Hitachi's or EMC's—or stick with their existing mix of storage hardware and attempt to manage it with software from Veritas, Legato or IBM's Tivoli division.

Each choice has advantages and disadvantages. Using a single vendor can often bring up-front savings. For example, the entry-level price of EMC's SAN Manager tool is $16,000, while the entry-level price for Veritas' comparable SANPoint Control software is $20,000. (This is not a straightforward comparison, because EMC calculates entry-level pricing based on the amount of storage being managed, while Veritas does so based on the number of devices being managed.)

In addition, say customers, EMC is known to discount the price of ControlCenter—its software for managing storage area networks—when it's bundled with EMC hardware. "ControlCenter is not a throw-in, but it's very competitively priced," says John Studdard, CTO at financial services firm Lydian Trust Co. in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. Studdard replaced Compaq direct-attached storage with six terabytes' worth of EMC Symmetrics storage hardware managed by ControlCenter.

A downside to using both hardware and software products from a single vendor is that a company can get locked into that vendor's offerings. Once managers like Studdard have deployed EMC hardware and software, it's difficult to add hardware from a different vendor. Studdard, for example, says he'd like ControlCenter to come with more powerful scripting and scheduling tools. It's not practical, however, for Lydian to jump to another storage management software suite just to get that feature. So Studdard's team had to develop its own Web-based scheduling software for ControlCenter.

Companies that use tools such as Veritas' storage management suite—which works with products from multiple vendors—can avoid lock-in but may pay more. And often, say tech managers, software from these third-party vendors doesn't perform as well as tools offered by the manufacturer of the hardware, or so-called native tools. So managers like John Caddigan of Nielsen Media Research often find themselves using Veritas' SANPoint Control for high-level tasks like utilization monitoring, but swapping in native EMC tools for other tasks. That means more software licenses and training classes to pay for.

"At some point all of this will have to converge," he says. "I don't want three tools for three different [storage systems]."



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